I was contacted by a person who had written a book, originally on a manual typewriter. This had subsequently been put into a Word document using Dragon Speech Recognition Software and edited by the author. Because English wasn’t his first language, as you can imagine, this made the content interesting to say the least. He wanted his manuscript copy edited and proofread and made ready to publish.
I did a sample copy edit and proofread of a section that he sent me, which although needing a lot of alterations because of the language problems, didn’t seem an impossible task. After agreeing to do the job at a price below my usual charges, thinking it would be good experience and wanting to help someone who was trying to self-publish, he sent me the first section of 8,067 words.
Anyway, long story short, what he really needed was an editor. The work needed a complete rewrite to make it legible for an English speaking person. After having spent 30 hours rewriting those 8,067 words which stretched to 16 pages, I decided this was not actually something I was experienced enough to take on, especially when he told me that he had edited the changes I had made, added some more text to that section and wanted me to edit it again. He was also unhappy that I had not inserted any ‘academic’ words into it!?
So, back to the question. When is a copy editor not an editor?
The answer, it seems to me, is where there is a major rewrite involved.
As a copy editor I would expect to correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and style; I would expect to edit for sense and make sure the meaning of the text is clear and makes sense; to check the length of sentences and paragraphs; check for consistency and improve language style.
However, I would NOT expect to be responsible for rewriting and restructuring the text in depth, ie content editing or substantive editing, which is what this required.
Especially not for the price he was prepared to pay for the work!
It’s not all about the money. Because I love my work, if I think a project will give me job satisfaction then so long as I don’t feel I am being taken advantage of I am happy to do the work. Unfortunately not the situation in this case!